Loneliness of Long Distan annon By Alan Sillitoe Born in Nottingham in 1928 to a working class family, serving in the Air Force, and going through many struggles, Alan Sillitoe is known as an effective representative of the English working class. Through his story ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance R unner’ and the other stories contained within the book, Sillitoe effectively criticises the legal system of England, which deprives individualism from its people, is ineffective and interferes with people’s lives. His stories ‘Uncle Ernest,’ ‘On Saturday Afternoon, and ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ show these themes. The issues presented still are pertinent today. Sillitoe effectively criticises the legal system in ‘Uncle Ernest.’ Uncle Ernest is a working-class lonely man who lives an isolated, despondent existence. Joan and Alma, whom he befriends, are very poor and in need of a father figure. Ernest has lost all of his old friends.
His family has left him. He is need of company. He can no longer cover up his loneliness like he covers up the sofas he re-upholsters for a living. Ernest buys food for them, clothes, and gifts. All three are happy in the rela tionship they have with one-another.
However, one day, he was told, ‘Now look here, we don’t want any more trouble from you, but if ever we see you near those girls again, you’ll find yourself up before a magistrate’ (57). Ernest is deprived his life, w hat makes him happy. He is deprived the only friendship he has because the unwritten social code suggests that a man such as himself befriending young girls as such means that he is a paedophile. The detectives interfere with his life. Sillitoe shows t he legal system not only makes false assumptions, but goes by an unwritten social code that is accusational.
The issue of conformity is central; Ernest is not a ‘normal’ member of society, therefore he is further ostracised. In ‘On Saturday Afternoon,’ Sillitoe’s narrative is of an account of a bloke hanging himself. The man survived. When found by a copper, he was told, ‘Its against the law.’ ‘It ain’t your life. And it’s a crime to take your own life.
It’s killing your self. Its suicide.’ (103). The legal system is ineffective; the man proved to the coppers whose life it was. He jumped out of a hospital window to his death. Furthermore, the legal system is questioned.
In this almost spooky story, Sillitoe raises the issue of whether or not the law has a right to decide for someone else whether or not that person has a right to take their own life. He answers with a decisive no through his use of tone, and by making the copper look foolish. Sillitoe’s story also im plies that the legal system interferes with one’s life by preventing one from doing as they wish, especially when it is not harmful to others. Finally, and most dramatically, ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner’ questions the legal system’s juvenile reform programs. ‘They can spy on us all day to see if we’re pulling our puddings and if we’re doing our ‘athletics’,’ Colin Smith states, ‘but they can’t make an X-ray out of our guts to find out what we’re telling ourselves’ (10).
This is just one of Smith’s comments which serve as a tool of satire, to say that the reform system is ineffective. It cannot change what the kids who go throu gh it feel inside. Borstal can make the students go through the motions but it cannot ‘reform’ them. When Smith leaves, he says that the six months ‘wasn’t a bad life’ (46) and that his stay at Borstal made him stronger. It is implied that he commits a nother burglary.
Sillitoe also criticises the system’s lack of consideration for the juvenile, but rather personal glory. Smith does not want to be a runner. He does not feel any desire to win the race. Smith loses the race because he too is not a con formist. He will not succumb to the governor.
He will not win the race because, ‘It don’t mean a bloody thing to me..only to him’ (12). Before going to Borstal, when a police officer questions Smith about robbing the bakery, the copper is shown to be incredibly foolish as Smith mocks him for days. Smith negotiates with the copper like a lawyer, asking him where his warrant is and mocking him in jest. Sillitoe shows the intelligence Smith. What makes Smith run? Is it the peace of the woods, the bea uty of the wildlife and animals Sillitoe frequently mentions? It is likely not, because Smith could run forever from his past and his present problems. ‘I could run forever,’ Smith says.
This comment is symbolic, and it drives the point home. Some peop le can run forever from the law, and the law can’t keep up with them. Sillitoe’s three stories are accurate accounts of English life at the time he wrote them. They are rich in symbolism and bring up a multitude of even more points than mentioned. He effectively criticises the legal system and the social codes of conformi ty. He points out that people are deprived of their rights, and that the justice system is foolish and ineffective.
Unsurprisingly, the observations of Sillitoe are true today. Just as in ‘Uncle Ernest,’ it is morally wrong for an older man to be frien ds with a child, and to buy them gifts. People might think that Ernest is a child molester, drug-addict, or kidnapper. Just like ‘On Saturday Afternoon,’ today the issue of suicide is very controversial. Should an individual be able to take their own l ife? Does the government have a right to tell one that they cannot? Dr.
Kevorkian is under intense scrutiny for his assisted suicides. Does the legal system really work, or does it just go through the motions as prescribed by the laws like a recipe boo k with no regard for the end result? In ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner,’ many of the issues hold true today. The juvenile justice system is quite ineffective. Police officers are made fun and blatantly disrespected, especially by adolescen ts. Kids are sometimes made to live their parent’s dreams.
We are asked time and time again by society many important questions. Life is a war. The law shows us the knife but we have the shield. We must want to do something for ourselves, because we want to, not because some one is telling us to. What is the difference between Smith and for instance, the private school in Indiana in which the football team is comprised totally of juvenile offenders, who practice at 5 AM, is self-determination.
They want to win. In ‘Uncle Ernest’ and ‘On Saturday Afternoon,’ we see how it is to lose hope. Sillitoe reminds us that in life, like Mrs. Scarfedale, ‘You had to be a struggler or lay down and die.’ by Dan Tortora.